The Ten Thousand strategy
I read the novel ‘The lost army’ written by Valerio Massimo Manfredi. A great book that takes your mind along the travel of a Syrian girl and her mysterious writer, Xenophon, through the Persian empire. I would recommend this book if you are interested in ancient history and you would like to read a good novel. It made me realize what a great strategy Sparta tried to perform with their famous army called The Ten Thousand. I will try not to tell too much of the story but of course the strategy will be in this article.
The story plays shortly after the Polynesian War where the Spartans were victorious over the Athens. When Cyrus decided to claim the right of the Persian throne in spite of his ruling brother, Xartaxerxes, he raised up an army to march on Babylon. As the younger brother he was not the rightful heir, but he was told he should be the one who ruled the empire. So both brothers would clash and of course one would win. Sparta, at that time the ruler of the Greek cities and arch enemy of Persia, tried to benefit from this family quarrel. They decided their red cloaks, the Ten Thousand (approximately 13500), should join the army of Cyrus. The twist here is that Xartaxerxes, an ally of Sparta for the time being, could not be aware of it. If Cyrus would win he would be in debt of Sparta. In the case of Xartaxerxes his victory, they could remain their peace treaty.
So the goal of Sparta was to remain on good ground with the Persians and if successful to make the Persians in debt of their support. By Cyrus his success it would easy. The red cloaks could come back home and celebrate their victory. If Xartaxerxes his army would be victorious Sparta had to make sure no evidence of their support was to be found. In other words the Ten Thousand had to be eliminated. This attempt to make the Ten Thousand disappear is the famous travel through the Persian empire. The result is a huge loss of soldiers due to the many battles fought and the harsh conditions of the winter high in the mountains. The surviving part of the Ten Thousand (approximately 7000) were in the end rewarded for their incredible successes and endeavors.
The Ten Thousand did not lose a battle. When the army of Cyrus got defeated (and Cyrus got killed) the Spartans were victorious. They were just to few and without a leader to continue the war themselves, after all they were mercenaries. The goal of Sparta was not achieved. When the Ten Thousand got back to the Greek cities war was about to break out again between them and Xartaxerxes. I believe that the overall goal of Sparta her strategy got a little closer though. A big part of the Persian army got eliminated. The travel of the Ten Thousand was not a total waste but strategically not the smartest move of Sparta in history. The Ten Thousand strategy, one of deceiving and misleading, is a dangerous strategy to play. I have to admit that by two outcomes, both a winning, the chance of reaching your goal is big. Unfortunately, for Sparta it did not work out.
I would like to mention another book from Valerio Massimo Manfredi. If you want to know more about Sparta I also recommend ‘Spartan’. A story told through the eyes of a born Spartan but raised as a Heliot. Please feel free to drop any comment on this strategy or point out some interesting facts. Of course you can also send me an email via the contact page.